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Singer's Midgets toured the US from 1910 to 1935 and were "enormously successful". Singer's Midgets - carnival poster.jpg
Singer's Midgets toured the US from 1910 to 1935 and were "enormously successful".

Midget (from midge , a tiny biting insect [2] ) is a term for a person of unusually short stature that is considered by some to be pejorative due to its etymology. [3] [4] [5] [6] While not a medical term like dwarf (for a person with dwarfism, a medical condition with a number of causes, most often achondroplasia), [7] midget long described anyone, or indeed any animal, exhibiting proportionate dwarfism. [8] [9] The word has a history of association with the performance arts, as little people were often employed by acts in the circus, professional wrestling and vaudeville.


The term may also refer to anything of much smaller than normal size, as a synonym for "miniature" or "mini", [10] such as midget cell, midget crabapple, midget flowerpecker, midget submarine, MG Midget, Daihatsu Midget, and the Midget Mustang airplane; or to anything that regularly uses anything that is smaller than normal (other than a person), such as midget car racing and quarter midget racing.

"Midget" may also reference a smaller version of play or participation, such as midget golf; or to anything designed for very young (i.e., small) participants—in many cases children—such as Disneyland's Midget Autopia, midget hockey, and midget football. [11] Some sports organizations, like Hockey Canada, have committed to removing the word, recognizing that it might be considered offensive.


Charles Sherwood Stratton as "General Tom Thumb" circa 1861 (under P.T. Barnum) Charles Sherwood Stratton.png
Charles Sherwood Stratton as "General Tom Thumb" circa 1861 (under P.T. Barnum)

Merriam-Webster states that the first use of the term "midget" was in 1816. [8]

Midgets have always been popular entertainers but were often regarded with disgust and revulsion in society. In the early 19th century, midgets were romanticized by the middle class and regarded with the same affectionate condescension extended to children, as creatures of innocence. [12] The term "midget" came into prominence in the mid-19th century after Harriet Beecher Stowe used it in her novels Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands and Old Town Folks where she described children and an extremely short man, respectively. [13] P. T. Barnum indirectly helped popularize the term "midget" when he began featuring General Tom Thumb, Lavinia Warren and Commodore Nutt in his circus. [14] "Midget" became linked to referencing short people put on public display for curiosity and sport. [13] Barnum's midgets reached position of high society, given fantasy military titles, introduced to dignitaries and royalty, and showered with gifts. [15] [16]

Such performances continued to be widespread through the mid part of the twentieth century, with Hermines Midgets brought from their performances in Paris to appear at the 1939 New York World's Fair, [17] the same year that MGM released The Wizard of Oz , which featured 124 little people in its cast, most of whom were from the Singer's Midgets troupe. [18] [19]

When interviewed for a 1999 piece, performers engaged in midget wrestling stated that they did not view the term as derogatory but merely descriptive of their small size. Others disagreed, with one stating that the performances themselves perpetuated an outdated and demeaning image. [20]

Towards the end of the 20th century, the word became considered by some as a pejorative term when referencing people with dwarfism. [7] [13] [21] [22] Some, such as actor Hervé Villechaize continued to self-identify as "midgets". [23]

In March 2023, former NBA star and Hall of Famer Bill Walton was criticized for using the term during a television broadcast of a college basketball game. [24]

There have been movements to remove the use of the word "midget" from age classification categories in youth sports, with Hockey Canada announcing that it would refer to the division as "U18" in 2020 as part of a wider renaming scheme. [25] [26]

See also


  1. Adelson 2005, p. 295–.
  2. Harper, Douglas. "midget". Online Etymology Dictionary . Retrieved 2008-04-03.
  3. Miller, P. S. (1987). "Coming up short: Employment discrimination against little people". Harv. CR-CLL Rev.
  4. Adelson 2005, p. ??.
  5. Gentry, Ruben; Wiggins, Ruby (15–16 November 2010). Individuals with Disabilities Are People, First--Intervene and They Will Learn. College of Education and Human Development Urban Education Conference. Jackson, Mississippi.
  6. "midget". Webster's II New Collegiate Dictionary (2nd expanded ed.). Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. p.  693. ISBN   0395962145. 1. An extremely small person who is otherwise normally proportioned.
  7. 1 2 Shapiro, Arthur H. (2000-09-01). Everybody Belongs: Changing Negative Attitudes Toward Classmates With Disabilities. Psychology Press. pp. 284–. ISBN   9780815339601 . Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  8. 1 2 Merriam-Webster Dictionary Entry for midget: sometimes offensive: a very small person; specifically: a person of unusually small size who is physically well-proportioned.
  9. Kennedy, Dan (2005-05-23). "What is Dwarfism?". American Documentary. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
  10. The World Book Dictionary. WorldBook.com. 2003. pp. 1315–. ISBN   9780716602996.
  11. Driver, Bruce; Wharton, Clare (2004-10-20). The Baffled Parent's Guide to Coaching Youth Hockey. McGraw Hill Professional. pp. 15–. ISBN   9780071430111 . Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  12. Ashby, LeRoy (12 May 2006). With Amusement for All: a history of American popular culture since 1830 . Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. p.  597. ISBN   9780813123974 . Retrieved 18 January 2018. commodore nutt.
  13. 1 2 3 Kennedy, Dan. "P.O.V. - Big Enough. What is Dwarfism?". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
  14. Thomson, Rosemarie Garland (1996). Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. NYU Press. pp. 191–. ISBN   9780814782224 . Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  15. Charles Sherwood Stratton (AKA General Tom Thumb) and His Circle, Jack & Beverly's Images of Special Subjects, December 2005.
  16. Exhibit: "Sketch Of The Life, Personal Appearance, Character And Manners Of Charles S. Stratton, The Man In Miniature, Known As General Tom Thumb, And His Wife, Lavinia Warren Stratton; Including The History Of Their Courtship And Marriage, With Some Account Of Remarkable Dwarfs, Giants, & Other Human Phenomena, Of Ancient And Modern Times, And Songs Given At Their Public Levees" 1863 pamphlet, Press of Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, New York (Robert Bogdan Collection), The Disability History Museum.
  17. Cullen, Frank (2004). Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. Psychology Press. pp. 507–. ISBN   9780415938532 . Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  18. Harmetz, Aljean (2013). The Making of the Wizard of Oz (75th Anniversary Updated ed.). Chicago: Chicago Review Press. p. 193. ISBN   978-1613748329.
  19. GoogleBooks Image for The Making of the Wizard of Oz Page 193
  20. Adelson 2005, p. 295.
  21. Adelson 2005, p. 6.
  22. Ross, Susan Dente; Lester, Paul Martin (2011-04-19). Images That Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media. ABC-CLIO. pp. 285–. ISBN   9780313378928 . Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  23. Mark Evanier (2001-01-19). "Victor & Billy". News From Me. originally published in Comics Buyer's Guide
  24. "Bill Walton facing backlash for using a derogatory term on broadcast," by Jenna Lemoncelli. The New York Post, March 10, 2023
  25. "Growing movement seeks to remove 'midget' from Alta. sports leagues". CTV News. 2018-12-11. Retrieved 2020-01-09.
  26. Barrow, Tyler (2019-11-19). "Hockey Canada makes name changes to age divisions". CTV News Calgary. Retrieved 2020-01-09.

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